A reflection on Mark 4:35-41, Proper 7B
The cover page of New York Times Magazine last week carried the title, “INFRASTRUCTURE” in bold black capital letters highlighted in fushia on a bright orange pencil drawing of buildings, highways, hot air balloons, cars, trains, and so forth.
I read the NY Times magazine every week, but this one was particularly enticing as I wondered what spin the Times was taking on this topic. Inside the magazine was an article titled, “Datatecture” covering the infrastructure of our world via the internet and our interconnectivity through Facebook, MySpace, iTunes, Gmail, and so forth. Another article looked at the remaking of Paris while another one looked at high-speed rail issues and a fourth article discussed the merits of more humane prisons with cells that are like mini apartments. I was particularly drawn to an article on the price of chicken, where the author bought a chicken at a farmers market and then wondered by he, or anyone, would spend $35 to buy a farm raised chicken from a farmers market. This article included a recipe from the author for his homemade chicken meatballs. For this author the price of chicken is an indication of an infrastructure gone haywire. More to the point, I think, was an article about the high number of shopping malls in America: some 20 square feet of shopping space for every human being in this country. America tops the list, compared to 13 square feet per person in Canada, 6.5 square feet in Australia, and 3 square feet in Sweden, according to a study conducted by Ellen Dunham-Jones and June Williamson. The fact that many of the malls in this country are abandoned or built but never used, is an indication of a country whose infrastructure is over-retailed. You might say that this article looked at an infrastructure of misused abundance, defeating the purpose, according to this magazine, of well-designed infrastructure whose function is never separate from form.
In the Christian faith we have an infrastructure that clearly connects function to form. This is found in our use of the liturgical calendar which breaks the year into segments, or rather, seasons, each of which highlight the life of Christ. The first season of the year is Advent. Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas, which is the last Sunday in November or the first Sunday December. Advent marks the time before the birth of Christ, a time of waiting for the coming Messiah. We sing, O Come O Come Emmanuel. Each season has a color, and for Advent the color is deep blue. Advent is followed by Christmas, the birth of Christ, and the color is white. Next comes Epiphany which celebrates the arrival of Three Kings and the gifts they bring to the new born baby Jesus. Following Epiphany we enter into a time called, Ordinary. It’s color is green. In ordinary time we celebrate the ordinary every day life of Christ as he lived among the disciples. Following this Ordinary time after Epiphany we enter into the season of Lent. Lent is ushered in with Ash Wed. and it is a time of penitence, prayer, self examination, and study. The color is purple. Lent leads us into Holy Week whose color is red and it celebrates the last week of Jesus’ life: from the procession into Jerusalem, to the washing of the feet and the creation of the Eucharistic meal, the crucifixion and the resurrection. Easter is a long season that celebrates the resurrection and the new life of Christ, its color is white. The day of Pentecost, also a red day, celebrates the birth of the church with the giving of the Holy Spirit to all people. Pentecost is always celebrated 50 days after Easter and falls somewhere between mid May and early June.
So now we have travelled all those seasons and find ourselves in the Season after Pentecost, which like the Sunday’s after the Epiphany, is a season of Ordinary time. Again, ordinary time marks the ordinary every day life of Jesus, those days of his ministry in between his birth and his death and resurrection. This season of Ordinary time is the longest season in the church year and lasts from May until the beginning of Advent in late November or early December. Its color, like that of ordinary time after the Epiphany, is green.
Celebrating the seasons of the church year provide Christians with an infrastructure for our prayer and worship grounded in the life and teachings of Jesus. As Episcopalians this is particularly relevant because our identity is grounded in our worship, we are the people of Common Prayer. The idea is that all Episcopalians use the same worship structure, even if on a given Sunday we are not all using the exact same prayers, the structure of the worship remains the same: An opening sentence, a hymn of praise, a prayer, the scripture readings followed by a sermon, the Nicene Creed, the Prayers of the People, the Confession, the peace, the offertory, the Eucharistic prayer, the post-communion prayer, a blessing, a closing hymn, and a dismissal. These comprise the infrastructure of our worship.
Week after week as we come and worship and pray and sing, we are being formed in our faith. We are formed by words and action and images. Some of our prayers we know by heart, having said them over and over for years, other words are new to us, perhaps waking us up to a new revelation of God’s presence. We become formed by the ritual of standing, kneeling, or holding out our cupped hands. We become formed by images of the cross, the chalice, the colors, even the presence, or not, of flowers. And most importantly we become formed by the people in our community – by the love, the compassion, and the reality that Christ is alive in these relationships.
This formation from words and action and image and relationships, then becomes the infrastructure of our lives and builds the foundation of our faith which sustains us when our lives become stormy, unpredictable, and frightening. As we navigate the ups and downs of life, as we strive to find balance on the sea of life, our formation as community enables us to lean into this life of faith, into the body of Christ, that we have come to know from one season to the next, from scripture to prayer, from feast to famine, and find solid ground to anchor us.